Graduation Season is Upon Us

The frenetic pace of the end of the school year means we have entered graduation season. For most of my career as an educator, this time of year has meant I would write down a few things I would want to say at the 8th grade promotion based on words/phrases of wisdom I had heard during the year.

As the principal of middle schools for 15 years, each opportunity I had I would try to say something meaningful and memorable at the 8th grade promotion. Of course, I am certain that the thousands of students, parents and relatives who heard my comments through the years—no doubt longer than they should have been—don’t remember any of them.

Therefore, in absence of any opportunity to speak before a class of graduating 8th graders today, I resort to this column to communicate my thoughts about life lessons that have been most meaningful to me. Actually, I believe the lessons are applicable to all high school and college graduates, too.

Here are my top four life lessons as I look back these 60 years:

1. As Carl Roger’s taught me in his book, “On Becoming a Person,” never be someone you are not. Being genuine and honest are two characteristics essential to actualizing your human potential.

2. Life goes by faster than you imagine. Make the most of each day by listening attentively to others, to nature, to self. Try to be in the moment whenever you can. Before you know it, those moments have turned into a lifetime faster than you ever could have imagined. It is not an easy pursuit, but try to enjoy as many of life’s moments as possible. They could be as simple as helping a child who has fallen, watching the setting sun, enjoying the fragrance of a budding rose, or cooking a meal for a friend.

3. As Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg said to the women graduates at Barnard College in her alma mater commencement speech in 2011, “… you better think big and dream big, right from day one … We try to keep our employees thinking big all day. We have these posters in red … One says ‘Fortune favors the bold’ … Fortune does favor the bold, and I promise you will never know what you’re capable of unless you try.”

4. As the Jesuit’s taught me in high school, work to be a man (person) for others. Be confident in who you are, believe in yourself and work for equity and social justice for all.

Unfortunately, today’s America is very polarized. We have lost the art of compromise to make effective social, economic and political change. Still, you must work hard to not become overly positioned. Instead, look for common and middle ground with friends, family, neighbors and colleagues. Living each moment to the fullest in a just and meaningful way will build the future you desire. Work toward compromise without acceding your values. Our Constitution is a testament to the notion that great people can come together for the good of the whole.

Joseph Di Salvo is a member of the Santa Clara County Office of Education’s Board of Trustees. He is a San Jose native. His columns reflect his personal opinion.

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